Wednesday, November 25, 2015         

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Honpa Hongwanji Mission gets vocal with values

By Pat Gee


Reacting to vocal opposition to civil unions and gays in the military by some religious conservatives, a Hawaii Buddhist organization has broken its traditional silence with a statement urging tolerance.

The Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii, consisting of 36 Buddhist temples statewide, unanimously passed a resolution in February supporting gay rights and are planning related public forums.

"We wanted to say, 'Hey, we're here, too.' We had never taken a stance before," said Blayne Higa, chairman of the Honpa's Social Concerns Committee. The group wants to add an Asian and Buddhist perspective to GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered persons) issues through its forums, Higa said.

In a March news release, Honpa Hongwanji President Alton Miyamoto said, "We want to share our Buddhist values of universal compassion, equality and interdependence with the larger community. We believe this issue is a matter of civil rights. We affirm the human dignity and worth of all people and that everyone deserves equal treatment within our society."

A letter was sent to the governor and legislators in April, urging the adoption of a civil unions bill for same-sex couples. Lawmakers passed House Bill 444, but Gov. Linda Lingle vetoed it in July.

At an August forum at the Buddhist Study Center, personal stories were shared, among them Lois and Pieper Toyama speaking about their daughter coming out 10 years ago.

Pieper Toyama said he and his wife, members of the Jikoen Hongwanji Mission, suspected their daughter was gay in high school. "I thought I should just ask her and let her know we support her, but I was a good Japanese person and kept silent," he said. When their daughter told them a few years later, the Toyamas were greatly relieved that she was free to be her true self and live openly with her partner.

"The people who are important to her are part of our family. Our lives are so much richer for that," Pieper Toyama said.

"My wife and I decided we were not going to be silent any more. There were so many years that we were so quiet. ... The Buddhists are quite silent on the subject, even though the teachings are clear on the equality of all people and how interdependent they are," he added.

Before the Honpa's annual legislative assembly voted to support gay rights, Toyama said, "It was a deal breaker for my wife. She said, 'If the Buddhist church is not going to support it, I have to question whether I want to be a member of this church.' I was startled."

As the head of Pacific Buddhist Academy always faced with young people, Toyama said, "I want them to be who they truly are. It's very real, very honest, very immediate and very personal -- it's not political."

Now that the Toyamas have spoken out, "It's great. We are finally living our teachings. My wife and I believe the more people learn (about gay people), we are able to create more and more safe places for our kids to share who they are."

Established in Hawaii for 121 years, the Honpa Mission is a Shin Buddhist sect under the Mahayana School of Buddhism, Higa said.

"It's funny, our older members were some of the biggest champions (of the resolution). The really older members remembered a time when Japanese-Americans were discriminated against or interned during the war. For them it really was a no-brainer, it was really just common sense," Higa said.

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